Trans Mountain pipeline leak: ‘I thought I was getting tunnel vision’

From the desk of Dan Shapiro

The Trans Mountain pipeline system between Edmonton and Vancouver was back up and running on Friday night following the emergency shut-down last week after severe weather hit the region.

The spill is believed to have involved low-hanging branches and fallen trees along the Pacific Highway corridor about 50 kilometres west of Vancouver. Estimated to be about 50 cubic metres, it occurred during a washout incident in the second week of October, said Pacific NorthWest Pipeline president Clayton Haynes.

The line was immediately shut down, he said. Five days later, an external contractor was asked to do some site assessments, and, after several hours, a secondary inspection revealed a “significant” leak, said Haynes.

After a thorough investigation, it was determined that a culvert tile washout had spilled a smaller amount of tar-like sediment material and an unknown amount of oil into the washout. Crews quickly began to remove the structure, combing through the soil and burning off a portion of it.

“It would’ve been tough to see a crater there. It was all squishy and soft to the touch, and there wasn’t a deep look,” said Hayes.

The pipe is made of steel, and the upper portion of it will be retrofitted to address erosion at the event site.

“The inspection confirms that it was built in a very spot where it would have more of a tendency to experience this type of damage, and we think it was the culvert tile that caused the problem,” said Hayes.

The Trans Mountain pipeline system is overseen by the National Energy Board, which is taking the incident seriously. The board “views this as a serious incident,” said a statement.

“Issues like this underline the need for pipeline companies to maintain their facilities with as much diligence as they do the energy they transport.”

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